** Restrictions remain in place
During the daily media briefing on Wednesday, the Party Leader Arlene Foster MLA confirmed that the Northern Ireland Executive had agreed that restrictions would remain in place in Northern Ireland for at least the next three weeks.
There will be a review of the regulations at the end of this period in light of the expert evidence available at that time.
Watch Wednesday's full briefing
here ([link removed]) .
** UK-wide Support measures extended
The Chancellor has announced changes this week to some of the UK-wide support schemes for businesses.
Job Retention Scheme
* On Wednesday new eligibility criteria were announced, confirming that that employees on a company’s PAYE system by 19 March 2020 will now be eligible for the Job Retention Scheme rather than the original 28 February cut-off.
* Today, the Chancellor announced that the furlough scheme would be extended for a further month, reflecting the continuing lockdown measures.
Wednesday's announcement was welcomed by the Party's Westminster Leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson ([link removed]) who had previously written to the Chancellor highlighting some gaps in the current support schemes.
He said, "The original cut-off date for the Job Retention Scheme had proven detrimental for some employees in Northern Ireland therefore this new date of 19 March is a very welcome step forward. Thousands more employees will now be eligible for the scheme.
We will continue to work with the Government to seek economic supports which can protect and help revive our economy on the other side of this pandemic. One area we need to see massively addressed is connectivity for Northern Ireland into the rest of the United Kingdom.”
Business Interruption Loan Scheme
* Today, the Chancellor announced that the government-backed loan scheme for large businesses affected by coronavirus has been expanded to cover all viable firms.
Further details can be found
here ([link removed]) .
** Education Minister announces arrangements for summer exams
Education Minister Peter Weir announcing arrangements for GCSE and A Level exams to the Assembly this week.
Education Minister Peter Weir has outlined the process for students completing GCSE and A level qualifications in 2020.
This is for students taking examinations set by the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment (CCEA) which provides the majority of examinations in Northern Ireland - 87% of A levels and 98% of GCSEs.
Key points include:
* Calculated grades will be issued for those completing their A level, A/S level and GCSE qualifications based on a combination of information provided by schools and colleges and statistical information.
* A/S level grades will count as a stand-alone qualification; they will not contribute to a final A level grade in 2021.
* Grades will be awarded for GCSEs due to complete in 2020 (mostly year 12s), but not for GCSE units where GCSEs are due to complete in 2021 (mostly year 11s). In the latter case, pupils will have the option to take any outstanding units in 2021 and have missing components calculated using statistical modelling and/or to sit all units in 2021 and be awarded the higher grade from either option.
The Minister said: "I have set out how qualifications will be awarded for GCSE and A level pupils. This will involve teachers using their professional judgement together with an extensive range of evidence held by schools, and statistical modelling. There will also be a process for standardising outcomes across school and other examination centres.
“The development of an appropriate appeals mechanism is also under consideration, as well as arrangements for private candidates. Whilst there will not be an opportunity for pupils to take re-sits in the autumn, they can, of course, choose to re-sit in the summer of 2021. I will also seek to align the issuing of results with England and Wales (i.e. A level results on 13 August and GCSEs on 20 August), thus ensuring that local candidates are not put at a disadvantage.”
** Concerns raised with Chief Constable
The DUP’s representatives on the Policing Board have discussed a range of issues relating to the PSNI’s response to the public health threat of Covid-19 during a meeting with the Chief Constable.
They discussed the role of the part-time reserve, the breaking of regulations at funerals and caravan parks as well as the need to address serious concerns about levels of domestic violence.
Commending frontline officers and staff for their dedication during this unprecedented crisis, North Antrim MLA Mervyn Storey said:
‘‘This was a useful opportunity to take stock of the PSNI’s role and response to Covid-19. We want to place on record our gratitude to police officers and staff who, like other blue light services, are providing a vital service to the public in enforcing social distancing regulations and helping to protect our NHS. These duties are on top of the normal policing response to calls for service - many of which are from vulnerable and at-risk sections of our community.
I also raised the value of officers in the part-time reserve who are helping to meet these demands locally, stressing the need to ensure this contribution is recognised when this crisis is over.’’
East Belfast MLA Joanne Bunting commented:
‘‘Over this past number of days across Northern Ireland we have witnessed incidents of hundreds of people gathering at funerals. There cannot be two sets of rules and the rules are clear. I raised these breaches with the Chief Constable today and emphasised that is imperative that a robust approach is applied to those flagrantly violating social distancing.
Further, I raised concerns regarding custody in Musgrave Police Station and sought reassurance that all appropriate steps are being taken to ensure the safety of all involved at this location. It is important that justice continues to be served. Provision for live-link court appearances will ensure the criminal justice system can continue to operate.’’
West Tyrone DUP MLA Tom Buchanan added:
‘‘The scenes witnessed at the funeral of Francie McNally contravened the regulations on public gatherings. It is vital that the police act on this and other examples of reckless and irresponsible breaches of social distancing. We recognise that enforcement powers should be used in a fair and proportionate manner, however at this time of uncertainty the public expectation is that those who risk their own health and that of others will face the full rigour of the law.
I also stressed the need for more effective communication between PSNI team and local communities. We need to prevent future confusion particularly around the opening of caravan parks in order to ensure public support for the current restrictions is maintained.’’
South Antrim MLA Trevor Clarke concluded:
‘‘The rise in domestic abuse incidents reported since social distancing regulations came into effect is a startling statistic. Whilst other crime demands appear to have reduced in line with new measures, this has not been the case for domestic crime. Behind each of these incidents is a victim whose wellbeing we have a duty to promote and protect and even more so in the current environment in which people may find it harder to leave their homes or reach out for help. We want to thank the PSNI for their efforts in tackling this area of crime, including making available the Silent Solutions Service, which enables a 999 caller who is too scared to make a noise, or speak, to press 55 when prompted.’’